Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage

A national and interdisciplinary conference

The past century has seen the development of many techniques for investigating woodland heritage spanning the disciplines of archaeology, ecology and history. More recently, open source tools such as LiDAR and 3D technology have provided community groups, individuals and academic researchers alike with incredibly detailed models of the landscape. This has created a fresh platform from which to question both the how and why of woodland change. What drove shifts in woodland cover and composition? Which forces led to different management of wooded landscapes? What effect did these changes have on communities, their resource use, and their experience?

The current challenge to woodland historians and archaeologists is to imagine more cohesive interpretations of past wood resource use and management, and then to share these stories with a wider audience.

Several landscape-scale projects across the UK, have achieved high levels of public engagement and begun to create a thriving cross-disciplinary approach embracing both community and academic research. It is clear that there is much to be gained from sharing and discussing the methods and outputs of these projects. Understanding the successes and challenges experienced during this type of collaborative work is vital, for example achieving educational goals, publishing data post-project, and effectively engaging with land owners and managers.

Both academic and community-led research have opened up a world of potential for broad-perspective interpretation, and further dialogue between these approaches can bring us closer to an understanding of the various roles of trees and woodland products in social and economic systems of the past. This includes, but is not limited to, contributions from traditional survey and excavation, pollen analysis, economic and social history, charcoal studies and landscape archaeology. There are many examples of pioneering academic research, ranging from the archaeology of charcoal production sites (Hazell et al. 2017) to the economic motivations behind evolving estate woodland management in East Anglia (Barnes and Williamson 2015).  Richer and Gearey’s (2017) work on improving the accessibility of pollen data to non-specialists is expanding ways of supporting public perceptions of the ‘living archaeology’ of cultural wooded landscapes.